A child of public servants and a former Peace Corps volunteer herself, Microsoft's president for U.S. regulated industries is committed to making her firm "a fundamental partner in the mission."
The commitment to service was instilled early. As the daughter of a senior Army officer and an elementary school principal, “I call myself a public-sector baby,” she said. “We all volunteered.… Our family meetings start with: ‘What have you done to improve the world?’”
When she graduated from college, she chose to answer that question by joining the Peace Corps then working for what is now the Government Accountability Office. “I’ve always had a great appreciation for what government can do,” she said.
The structural thinking, meanwhile, has shaped Townes-Whitley’s entire career. From her start in GAO program evaluations, she effectively worked her way through the entire stack of public-sector IT. There was consulting with Arthur Andersen, the hardware layer with Unisys, systems integration work with CGI Federal and ultimately the “software and app space with Microsoft.”
Even now, as Microsoft’s president for U.S. regulated industries, she seeks to draw lessons from the different sectors in her portfolio — education, health care, finance and state/local government in addition to the federal space — and apply them “across the seams.”
Artificial intelligence is one of those areas where successes in one sector are informing efforts in the others, although Townes-Whitley cautioned against focusing on AI for its own sake.
“The goal here is really to start with a mission … and getting Microsoft and its portfolio better positioned to accelerate the transformation of mission-critical systems,” she said. The cloud infrastructure that her company and others have developed in recent years has laid the foundation for platforms and specific AI solutions that can support such mission transformation.
“That’s the evolution of moving from being a software license provider to a fundamental partner in the mission,” she said.
Understanding those customer missions, Townes-Whitley added, is arguably the most important part of her job — and the most satisfying.
“I come out of this community,” and although her Microsoft career took her to “the other Washington” for a few years, she said, “I’m back. And…I feel particularly honored to have grown up in this community.”